Monday, September 27, 2010

As If That Weren't Enough

Do you realize, I'm still finishing the story of everything that happened over the last two weekends! I have to laugh when I work on my pictures throughout the week because I say to myself, "Did we really do that much???" And the answer is always YES.

First things first. The new dining table with 6 ladder-back chairs that we bought at the thrift store for €50....

It so happens we went to the thrift store to find a CD rack to match our DVD racks. Like magic, we found one exactly like what we pictured, for €2.50. Why do I mention the price, you ask? BECAUSE WE LOVE BARGAINS! Punt uit (period!)! And because it's fun, we just happened to look around a bit when Voilà. There she stood, as though waiting for us.

It had to be refinished. Well, it didn't have to be but Astrid and I both saw the hidden potential. What you have to understand is this is Astrid's life! I have done such projects myself at different points over time and I, too, enjoy working with wood. But Astrid knows all the tricks. Did you know that you can take a piece of cut glass to scrape off all the old finish on a flat wood surface? Did you know there are electric sanders that can be hooked up to the vacuum hose to suck up the dust as you sand? Little tricks of the trade.
And four coats of boat lacquer to last a lifetime.

There was nothing wrong with our old table (lower-left corner). It never occurred to us to get a new one, to be honest. Astrid had found a solid, thick piece of wood 5 years ago by the side of the road for the dump truck and because it was a beautiful piece of wood, she grabbed it and always kept it. When she knew we'd need a table for this apartment, she worked her magic and made our dining table/desk out of it...with 4 accompanying folding chairs. I think we could have lived with it forever.

But when we saw that table at the thrift store, we put a reserved sign on it, drove back home to measure if it would fit into our limited space. Yes, it would. SEE! Just enough more space for 'easy listening!' I even show an image of the nearby rug in the living area that I brought with me from Atlanta...matching the muted burgundy of the table and the cabinet from Astrid's mom.


Now switch gears to the Koorfestival (Choir Festival) held a week ago Saturday. Astrid was still in the throes of her sinus infection and couldn't go anywhere. So I went out on my own to scope it all out, with camera in hand...the second year of its kind here in Gorinchem.

There were 10 venues with stages for around 27 choirs who hopped from place to place. Three of the venues were in neighboring towns, but I only went to ones nearby, in walking distance. The above collage represents 4 of the choirs in 4 separate locations, two of which you might recognize from the churches of my last post. Read the collage as 4 separate choirs, each on their own row, with the choral conductor at the beginning.
That last choir (4th/bottom row) is called 4 Times a Lady. How cool is that!

Now, listen to this! In between choir performances (each choir sang for 30 minutes before switching venues), one of the ladies from the first-row choir above saw me walking elsewhere and stopped me, asking if I could by chance send them my pictures. She recognized me from when they were singing. She also told me their next venue in case I wanted to hear them the Rehoboth Church (from last post). So, not shying from the recognition (HA!), I went....

This is my collage of the Mamma's & Pappa's (in Dutch, the plural for a word ending in an 'a' is an apostrophe s = 's). For them I did a photo album of 37 pictures and sent it to the lady who then forwarded it on to the other members. The things I do! (I declare.)

After all that was done--the choir hopping, that is--I headed home to share my excitement with sick Astrid. But not before snapping the following picture (click all pictures to enlarge):

Immediately, 4 boys at my elbow on the street asked if I would take their picture. My impression was they were not expecting me to say Yes but were more or less jokingly daring me. We have lots of Mid-Easterners in our city whose kids are always out-n-about having fun. So I just decided to play along...surprise, surprise (but my camera is big; you don't mess around with me)...and on the spot took these 3 pictures, ordering them around like I was a professional knowing what I was doing:

Notice the one guy who shoots the bird but never looks at the camera. The other hand gesture has no meaning to Astrid or anyone else we've asked. Who knows what it means. But I just laughed and said to myself,
"Boys will be boys!"

Then suddenly 2 of them wanted me to send them the pictures. So after they wrote down their e-mails, they asked when I would send the images? I said "By tomorrow." "That fast?" the shoot-the-bird guy asked.
"Yes," I said.

When I got home and showed the pictures to Astrid, I told her those would be the first pictures I'd process and would send them that very night. She half-kiddingly told me NOT to expect a response from either of them. "No way," she said. So in my e-mail I told the guys I now wanted them to do something nice for someone.
"You owe me big time!"

The next morning I had heard from BOTH guys, thanking me and telling me that YES, they did owe me big time. See how we need to have faith in our youth and just expect the best from them!

One last thing before I tell you how Astrid is doing. During the early choir-hopping that Saturday, I entered the back entrance of our Grote Kerk (Great Church) because the door was standing wide open for those wanting to climb the tower. (By the way, do you see how that tower leans in the top-left image below? It really does lean like that!) To my surprise, this is what I saw:

It's an art project that has a continuing life of its own. I wish now that I had asked more about it, but as you can see, there are hundreds of fishing-line cords attached to the window that look like rays of light, gathered together near the ceiling and then dropped to just above the floor with hundreds of attached metal vials.

A lady was sitting nearby for the tower tourists, so I asked for an explanation. She said the vials are for people who want to write prayers of remembrance for their deceased parents/friends. I asked her if anyone could do it...and how much it cost? It was for anyone, of course, and without cost. So in that "eternalized" moment, I wrote my note to Mom and Dad and had her insert it and cap the vial while I took pictures. Then I cried and gave her a hug. Even now I have tears in my eyes.
I LOVE YOU, Mom and Dad!

Astrid's 7-day antibiotic regimen finally kicked in after 5 days, so she's a brand new person once again. The marvels of medicine and the mindfulness of others! Thank you from her and me both.

Monday, September 20, 2010


First of all, it's my turn again at Vision & Verb where I talk about What We Collect. If you go there, you'll see why this image fits into two of my collectibles. Lucky me. Two for the price of one.

We saw that weathervane, by the way, on our way home from Wageningen two Saturdays ago (last post) we did this delightful nature reserve called De Blauwe Kamer ( = The Blue Room) on the banks of the River Rhine. We had heard about it and decided to check it out:

Before entering the reserve, just as you are driving by, you first of all see the impressive chimney of the factory where bricks were produced until 1975 and from which the reserve gets its name. Then you walk in down a long path through the woods and Voilà!, there it is...all the nature you could ask for with surrounding marsh: a sanctuary for Konik horses and Galloway cattle, wildflowers, a windmill, and enough different species of birds to shake a stick at.

That Saturday we saw several groups of field-trippers. It's a well-known reserve in Holland. The blue observation tower out in the field gives a vantage point for birdwatching, with posters hung on the walls for identification. Well worth the visit, even though we didn't have our binoculars.

That was Saturday two weeks ago. The very next day, Sunday, the weather was glorious, so we decided to take a short ride outside town to see the apple and pear orchards. Seriously. They aren't what I'm used to.

This is how they grow their fruit orchards here. They start out with rows of stick trees with the apples climbing poles. The mature trees after a few years are kept low and thin so that workers can walk around them and pick the fruit without using ladders. After 15 years the trees are cut down and a new batch is planted.

BTW, in case you don't know, the Elstar apple (above) was first cultivated here in The Netherlands in the 1950s by crossing a Golden Delicious apple with an Ingrid Marie apple. It's a crisp, crunchy apple...the kind I like and which I buy when in season, which is now. Did I tell you how much I love autumn!

The same with the pears.
Do you know how tempting it was to reach out and pick one to eat on the spot!

Even Granny Towanda was dying to try an apple or two...for all her horse power, you know!

That was two weeks ago.

We stayed home the next Saturday, a week ago, in order to take advantage of the Open Monument Day here in Gorinchem, Netherlands. Every year, on the second Saturday of September, "approximately 3000 monuments across the Netherlands, normally closed or only partly open to visitors, open their doors to the public free of charge." We could have taken this offer more seriously and packed the day solid, but instead, we visited only two churches that we always wondered about, both within a short walk from our apartment:

The first church is the relatively new Rehoboth Church that was built in 1909 and houses the Christian Society. The gate to the courtyard off the street is usually closed so you can't get a good shot of the church front except from above, as we did awhile back while up on the fire-engine ladder (above bottom-left). You can see the back of the church from a nearby alleyway (bottom-right). But to finally go inside the courtyard and get these angles was a real treat. For the last 9 months I had only seen the spire hovering over Gorinchem.

Inside the Rehoboth church you face the simple altar and the above words (translated):
"Who has the Son has life." (I John 5:12)
It's a bright, simple, wide-open meeting room, more than a santuary, but with wonderful side windows and a fabulous ceiling. Well worth the visit.

From there we walked the couple blocks to the "hidden church" from Evangelical Lutheran church:

See why this is called the "Hidden Church!" I didn't even know it was there till Astrid told me about it one day. The gate is always closed and the sign is inside. If you don't pay attention, you never see this little gem down in the back of the side buildings.
"A great Fortress is our God" is the translated sign over the doorway.

This was the real treat of the day, just a tiny, narrow church with hardly enough room to turn around in. Quaint. Cozy. So "old country." It made me wonder what the congregation looks like each Sunday at 10 a.m.

And that was that! So as you see, beetje bij beetje (little by little), stap voor stap (step by step), we are seeing even what's here in our own backyard.

Which reminds me:

This paint can hangs over a paint shop just two blocks down the street from us. I've wanted you to see it since forever. The middle-right art (above) is on one of our storefront buildings nearby. And the statue at bottom-right sits out in the grass at one of the intersections not far from town.

All in a day's wander from here and there while out-n-about where we live in The Netherlands!

Next post I'll show you the before and after of our new dining set, which Astrid has already refinished. She is sick right now, however, with a sinus infection and maybe even the flu, out from work since last Thursday. No fun. We'll organize the dining area once she gets back on her feet.

In the meantime, don't forget my turn again at Vision & Verb where I talk about What We Collect.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Another Saturday, another city, another water tower, another adventure: Wageningen. Don't worry if you can't get your tongue around it because I still stumble over it myself: VA-hen-ing-en. It's a historical and university town of Food Sciences just 50 km from our apartment here in The Netherlands.

When I got excited about seeing it a week ago, it was for the water tower, windmill and Grote Kerk. Astrid never once mentioned what it's historic significance was until we got there. Hold that thought.

As we often do, we head into the city center and get our bearings. Right away we start looking for a quaint little café for our late-morning koffie and appeltaart. It's our photo-hunt treat every weekend we're out-n-about.

And there it was, the Hotel de Wereld (Hotel the World):

And that's when Astrid told me why it was important.

"May 6, 1945, the German general Blaskowitz surrendered to the Canadian general Charles Foulkes, which ended the Second World War in the Netherlands. The Generals negotiated the terms of surrender in the Hotel de Wereld."

On the spot I said to Astrid, THIS is where we need to have our koffie. Such a memorable place!

So we did. Outside on the terrace, overlooking the May 5th Plaza.
That important day was a month before the day I was born on the other side of the Big Pond.

BTW, the koffie in the glass is a latte macchiato, my koffie of choice whenever I can get it...since Germany days in Hannover so many years ago!

A block or so away from the hotel, we passed the Roman Catholic church on Bergstraat. No amount of Googling has helped us find the name of it, which is why I've mentioned the street:

It so happens the church was open that Saturday morning because a group was preparing for a monthly Eucharist service the next day. But I want you do see this YouTube I found of the interior. Remember when I told you a couple posts ago that the catholic churches seem so dark to us? This is without doubt the darkest church of any denomination Astrid and I have ever seen:

The lights weren't on when we were there either. So strange. I really don't understand it, do you? But we were still glad to see it and get our education, so to speak.

As we continued walking to the Grote Kerk and City Hall, we passed the kind of architecture that still blows me away. The spires, the clock towers, the old, the new....

....and all the fun things that make our photo hunts...well, fun!
That middle left image, incidentally, is a stork's stand built as an open invitation for any stork to build its nest, if it would be so kind. It's a rare and protected bird here in The Netherlands, one we have actually seen more than once, sitting high up on a roof/chimney.

As we neared the city-center's plaza where the Johannes de Doperkerk or Grote Kerk (John the Baptist or Great Church) and city hall stand, we first of all saw the Saturday market in full swing, all around the church....

....then we started to hear music as we rounded the corner to City Hall, and this is the band we saw playing:

That's City Hall with the city's lion coat of arms and the Grote Kerk in the background. It didn't take us long to find out what all the hubbub was about....

Are we lucky or what!
If you recall back to when Astrid and I got married in February, you may remember that we, too, were married at City Hall and by a city-hall official, licensed to perform wedding ceremonies. In The Netherlands, whether you get married in a church or not, you are required to be married by a city hall official at city hall (very few exceptions to the rule). There is a definite separation of church and state when it comes to marriage.

For one brief minute or two, we were there at the right place at the right time! We really did feel lucky.

After that, there was only one thing left to see on our list....

De Vlijt Molen = The Diligence Windmill, built in 1879 as a grain mill.
See how much Granny Towanda (our granny-apple green car), too, loves windmills! I think she can spot them with her eyes closed. And lucky for us, that day this mill was open for business....

I don't often show you images of a mill's interior because they're usually not open, not a business, or someone's private residence. When it's a working mill that sells its own produce, we're all in for a treat. This is where you can buy your own corn meal, for instance, which I have done elsewhere. It's like another world, another time.

Okay. That's enough for today! On our way home, we stopped at the Blauwe Kamer nature reserve but I'll save that for another post...along with all the apple and pear trees loaded down with fruit everywhere we go right now. That, too, is another is the dining table we just bought with 6 ladder-chairs for €50 at the nearby thrift store. We're on a roll.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sail 2010 Amsterdam: Day 2

My last post was Day 1 of Sail 2010 here in The Netherlands, starting first in IJmuiden on the west coast and ending up in Amsterdam on the east coast. Here's the map again (click to enlarge):

You may recall that we decided to spend our entire first day in IJmuiden and NOT take the time and energy to also go into Amsterdam, 24 km away. We saved that for the next day, Friday, 20 August. And that's what this post is about.

Part of our package deal from the Holiday Inn was a round-trip fast-flying ferry from IJmuiden to Amsterdam on the North Sea Canal:

At speeds up to 65 kph, it took only half an hour each way. What a way to go! There was no way we would drive into Amsterdam and try to find a reasonable parking spot, as though it would even be possible!

The fast-flying ferry dropped us off at the dock behind Amsterdam's central train station, right in the middle of all the action. Since we wanted to see all the tall ships in one "swell foop," we were in the right place at the right time. The only disappointment was that once again, as in IJmuiden, the sails were not unfurled. However, by seeing only the skeletons, we probably saw more of what was really there. And by coming in off the water, instead of through town, we avoided some of the crowd.
They say at least 1.3 million people visited over the weekend.

Some of the crowd. HA! The crowd on the water was almost as bad. I wonder how many near-accidents were avoided that weekend!

Can you tell how totally mesmerized I am by the masts and sails and ropes and flags of boats! And see what a beautiful day it was!

As Astrid would say, we were "short of eyes" to see everything in front of us that day.
And, sad but true, I am now also short of my Tilley hat that blew off in a gust of wind and landed on the top of a sight-seeing tourist boat while we were standing on a bridge over it. If I had been thinking, I would have taken a picture of it. Thank God it was at the end of the day when I no longer needed its protection from the sun. I had to laugh about it...a memory I'll not soon forget. Someone got a good hat, unless it's still floating somewhere on the IJ river there in Amsterdam.

One of the goals for Day 2, after walking up and down the riverside to see all the sights, was to mosey on over to the Prinsengracht (the outer canal of Amsterdam's 4 in city center) where at 1 p.m. would start the Pieremachocheltocht (even the organisation isn't sure what the word means--a parade of carnavalesque floating creations open to anyone.)

As we left Centraal Station on foot, we started passing everything that had been familiar to me for the two years when Donica and I had lived half of every month in Amsterdam. Happy memories in image....

The Centraal Station alone is an architectural masterpiece. At Dom Square Madame Tussaud overlooks all the tourists who gawk at the mimes. The pedestrian streets are lined with myriad shops selling their wares. The restaurants and cafés...would you eat in a café where you saw a cat napping on one of the tables?

By the time we got to the Prinsengracht canal, just 2-3 blocks from our old apartment, we found a cozy spot in an abandoned boat where we had a perfect vantage point for this crazy carnival of "anything that floats." It was the one thing Astrid was so eager to share with me. One by one they came:

First came the Inspection boat of the BBA (BinnenwaterBeheerAmsterdam), followed by the Police and the Fire Brigade. Yes, especially in fun, on the water, you need control.

Then came the fun:

Yes, that would be the Flintstones.

The lower left boat was run by a car engine...and revved up to make the sound of a sports car as it came by.
The bottom right image was run by a tractor's engine, turning paddle wheels!

Does college frat-house humor ever change from age to age or differ from country to country?
I guess not!

It didn't take long...maybe an hour and not as many "floats" as I expected, but it was totally worth the fun. Here's a YouTube that puts it in motion:

At the end of this "carnival on the canal," it was time to take the fast-flying ferry back to IJmuiden to pick up our car and drive the 94 km (59 miles) home. But one last thing:

As almost an after-thought, Astrid mentioned that her father was cremated at the cemetery in Driehuis just 2 km from our parked car. I didn't have to say much to convince her I wanted to see the place, even though his ashes had been spread over the North Sea via airplane. His father before him had been a captain of a Merchant Navy ship...before, during and after WW the sea was in his blood.
He died in 1981 when Astrid was 27.

And so, as we started our trip at the North Sea, we also ended it there in memory of Dré Wijdekop.
May he rest in peace.

That, my friends, was Sail 2010 Amsterdam. Enough excitement to last a couple of weeks...which it did, since we rested at home the entire next weekend. You can see why I made 2 posts of it!

Oh...and lest I forget, today is my turn again at Vision and Verb...on Always Looking Up and Mercury Retrograde. :)